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Help for Addicted, Impaired Physicians Underutilized

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, March 25, 2013

"But there's this culture in medicine that we are above everyone else's issues. Instead of going in for treatment, the administration might decide it's better to let them go," says Bryson. "We need to educate about the nature of addiction and how it should be treated. It needs to be a national discussion because the accountability will make these systems step up. It's a reactive system right now and it needs to be proactive."

Society places an enormous amount of trust in physicians, and when they fail in that trust, the fall from grace can be shattering. That's why many clinicians don't report their impaired colleagues or come forward themselves, says Norcross.

The reasons why physicians do not report their colleagues are fear that they themselves might be sued, and not wanting to ruin a colleague's career. A lack of information about how the committees work is a factor, says Norcross.

We can't count on addicted physicians to identify themselves, either. According to Norcross, only about 2% of physicians self-report their substance use disorder at UCSD.

The UCSD System Well-Being Committee often visits community hospitals to teach their physician health committees more about transparency and encouraging staff to come forward when they see an impaired colleague.

"If you're on staff and if you don't know what the committee does or that what you report is confidential, you won't use [it]. So that's one of the first challenges," says Norcross.

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